National Quality Framework Submission: Network of Asylum Seekers Agencies, Victoria

About the NASAVic Housing Coalition

The NASAVic Housing Coalition, formed in March 2009, is a subgroup of the Network of Asylum Seeker Agencies in Victoria (NASAVic). The NASAVic HC formed in response to a growing occurrence of disadvantage being experienced amongst clients from the asylum seeker community represented by three core agencies: the Australian Red Cross (Red Cross), the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project (Hotham Mission).

Aims of the NASAVic Housing Coalition

The NASAVic Housing Coalition aims to:

  • Raise awareness about asylum seekers within mainstream housing agencies;
  • Record and provide feedback to the Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding negative experiences faced by asylum seekers in accessing housing services
  • Create a shared understanding within the sector about appropriate housing services, frameworks and models; and
  • Identify and advocate for models of best practice within the provision of housing services.

These aims are met through monthly meetings, regular and continued visits to and correspondence with housing agencies and ongoing discussions and advocacy with both local and federal stakeholders regarding appropriate ways of moving forward in tackling the housing issues faced by asylum seekers.

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Submission to the Homelessness Working Group on the National Quality Framework

Comments in this paper concern the client base of the three core agencies represented in the NasaVic Housing Coalition (Red Cross, ASRC, Hotham Mission), predominantly drawn from the on-shore protection stream, or asylum seekers on Bridging Visas with varying entitlements living in the community. These asylum seekers await resolution of their immigration status and, by definition, do not have residency status as Australians. They are unable to access the social safety net provisions of Centrelink and are often without work rights, access to Medicare or access to employment. These factors often mean they experience destitution and multiple and serious vulnerabilities.

This paper does not aim to comment on the specific elements to be recognized in creating a comprehensive National Quality Framework (i.e. the specific evaluation tools). Whilst NasaVic Housing Coalition is involved in evaluations and the development of best practices, the expertise of the Coalition is focused on the gaps, issues and outcomes being presented by the abovementioned demographic, not on the development of specific tools for evaluation. Therefore this paper will highlight the following points for consideration in the development of a National Quality Framework:

1) Asylum seekers are often not recognised in evaluations/ quality assessments/ frameworks within the housing sector

In devising a National Quality Framework the Homelessness Working Group should give due consideration and recognition to the abovementioned demographic. Asylum seekers, as a minority group in Australia, are often missed within government responses to housing. This is seen throughout the housing sector, with asylum seekers often experiencing closed doors. This is particularly apparent in asylum seekers limited access to housing agency support services, and access to transitional and public housing, which is confirmed through a lack of recognition in policy documents and evaluations of the sector.

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2) Asylum seekers particular vulnerabilities should be considered in a National Quality Framework

While the current housing crisis in Victoria and an extreme shortage of affordable and safe accommodation options affects the broader population, clients from the asylum seeker community face further disadvantage in accessing housing. The constraints on these people include:

  • a lack of income support and subsequent destitution;
  • coping with multiple vulnerabilities (including language and cultural barriers, experience of torture and trauma, lack of access to transport, lack of familiarity with Australian society and special needs of women and minors);
  • a lack of entitlement and access to emergency accommodation, transition accommodation, housing agency assistance and public housing;
  • difficulty entering the increasing competitive and expensive private rental market;
  • difficulty accessing asylum seeker entitlements; and
  • uncertainty regarding immigration process and outcomes;

In addition to these constraints, where asylum seekers can access housing, the location is often isolated and far from support services, thus compounding their social exclusion and increasing their vulnerability. Recent policy developments around housing solutions also exclude consideration of asylum seekers in the community.

Asylum seekers and refugees have specialised needs, not only due to their experience of fleeing their country and their histories of torture and trauma but also due to their experiences in Australia as asylum seekers. Seeking asylum is not only marked by destitution and transience but also the denial of some of their most basic human rights. The experience of reoccurring homelessness and living from the support of charitable organisations has implications for individuals and families capacity to settle effectively in the Australian community. As such it is essential that appropriate supports be put in place that recognises the exceptional circumstances of those individuals and families and their unique needs.

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3) Best practices within the asylum seeker housing sector

The collective casework experience of the NASAVic Housing Coalition confirms that homelessness contributes to physical and mental health problems and family breakdown. Crisis accommodation, boarding and rooming houses and informal housing (typically characterized by instability and overcrowding) can place some asylum seeker men, women and children at risk of abuse and exploitation.

The NASAVic Housing Coalition recognizes the need for early intervention and preventative models to target homelessness. It further recognizes that the current crisis based model of intervention is insufficient and leads to the needs associated with reoccurring homelessness remaining unmet. Within Victoria the NASAVic community recognizes a clear shortage of support and outreach services, aimed at preventing first time, and on-going homelessness to occur.

Innovative models of supported housing for asylum seekers in the community already exist in Victoria and include the Brigidine Sisters, Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project and Baptcare's Sanctuary Housing Project. These services, which respond directly to the needs of individuals, are funded through the charitable donations of individuals and organizations, and receive no government funding.

These projects see asylum seekers housed together with access to on-site support and case management. They work closely with existing Asylum Seeker Support Services. People who are housed through these projects experience dramatically reduced anxiety around the uncertainty of finding shelter.

The NasaVic Housing Coalition supports these models which are available for a Government which is seriously committed to ending homelessness.

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Conclusion

The NASAVic Housing Coalition aspires to be continually involved in the process of building better systems, programs and policies to target homelessness. The above recommendations based on inclusion and access to services for asylum seekers would be positive steps towards preventing the homelessness of asylum seekers.

NASAVic is a network of agencies working together in Melbourne to coordinate and advocate on behalf of asylum seekers.

Its member agencies are:

  • Asylum Seeker Assistance Project
  • Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
  • Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre (ASWC)
  • Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project
  • Dandenong Asylum Seeker Centre
  • Fitzroy Learning Centre
  • Hotham Mission - Asylum Seeker Project (ASP)
  • National Council of Churches in Australia
  • Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and Community Assistance & Support Program (Observer)
  • Refugee and Asylum Seeker Health Network (RASHN) Victoria
  • Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
  • Wombat Housing and Support Services

The NASAVic Housing Coalition, a subgroup of NASAVic comprises of:

  • Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme and Community Assistance & Support Program (Observer)
  • Hotham Mission - Asylum Seeker Project (ASP)
  • Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
  • Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), Case Management
Content Updated: 27 June 2012